"C" is for Clipper Ships

Visitor's ABC's

By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff

Beach News, Thursday, June 2, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
Each year, the Beach News is proud to feature an unique ongoing series of articles concerning interesting facts about the region's places and history. This year, we will be doing a virtual visitor's ABCs of the Seacoast region.

Once, the harbors and waterways of the region were filled with floating forests of masts. Sailing vessels of every type were built along the banks of the Merrimack and Piscataqua Rivers, ranging from the humble dory and gundalow to one of the most majestic of all ships -- the clipper.

Clippers arose in the 1840's as the super ships of their time. Able to carry large amount of cargo and passengers, they could literally 'clip' days or weeks off of their voyage compared to earlier ship designs.

With a ready supply of timber, and skilled labor, Newburyport and Portsmouth created a niche market of sorts, building fine clipper ships for merchants with all the refined details one would expect from a New York City shipyard, but at a much lower price. A fine example of one of these ships was the Portsmouth's Sea Serpent, the largest clipper ship built along the Piscataqua River. Launched in November 1850 at the Raynes & Sons yard, she was about 212 feet long and 30 feet wide, and weighed in at 1,402 tons. The Sea Serpent set sail from New York to San Francisco on January 11, 1851, taking 127 days to circumnavigate South America and braving bad weather.

Rather than return by the same route, she set sail for Hong Kong to get a cargo of tea, which was in such demand in America and Europe.

She returned to New York after a voyage of nine months and twenty-five days, an impressive, although not extraordinarily fast time.

Unlike many other clippers she would remain on this route and in American ownership until 1874 when she was sold to a Norwegian firm. Renamed Progress, she was eventually abandoned at sea in 1891 while shipping a load of lumber.

One of the fastest and most famous ships built along the Seacoast region was the Dreadnought. Launched by Currier & Townsend in 1853 in Newburyport Mass, she was 212 feet long and displaced 1,414 tons. Put into service as a transatlantic packet she would make an average voyage of 19 days from New York to Liverpool England with cargoes of corn, cotton and other raw materials. The return voyage, with immigrants and manufactured goods, took an average of 26 days. Her fastest time, 10 days from New York City to Liverpool was a record time for crossing the Atlantic. In all, she made twenty trips between the two great ports, before she was nearly sunk in a great storm in 1863.

The seamanship of her crew saved her from disaster, although repairs were needed. Despite her speed and fame she was taken off the route in 1863, and entered into the Cape Horn trade, circling the globe from New York to California, Hawaii and Queenstown. In 1869, on her 31st and final voyage, she ran aground at Cape Peñas on the northeast coast of Tierra del Fuego, and sank.

Clipper ship construction in the region came to a close by the end of the 1850's, and clippers began to go into decline thanks to advances in steam propulsion. The Confederate commerce raiders of the Civil War forced many owners to sell their ships rather than face attacks or increased insurance rates.

Aside from models and memories enshrined in the museums in Newburyport and Portsmouth, no clipper ships can be found along the Seacoast today.

During the summer months though, at least one tall ship visits the port of Portsmouth, and the local waters are filled with the sails of smaller sailboats trying to recapture the glory days of the days of the tall ships.

"C" is also for:

The Candy Corner, a sweet place on the corner of "C" Street.

Captains Corner in Salisbury, which features mini- golf, ice cream and food.

Captain Don's, where you can get some fresh lobster.

Casino Fast Foods, right in the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, a place to get some really fast food.

Cascade Cafe, where you can dine and watch the fun on the water slide.

Chris's Comics, a great place to find something heroic to read.

The Cigar Shop on Hampton Beach, where you can get a fine cigar.

Crossword puzzles - you can find our favorite on Page 25A in the Beach News.